You may have seen the case of Lynn Shepherd and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Attitude article, in which she suggests that J.K. Rowling stop writing adult fiction and give other writers a chance already. It’s no surprise that negative reaction ensued. Shepherd’s non-apology didn’t do much to help, at least in part because it was so disingenuous—if your intent is to highlight how tough it is for new writers to get noticed, you really need to write about that instead of trashing a well-known writer. If Shepherd genuinely thought she was writing about what she claimed, it’s evidence that she’s really not very good at writing, because that’s not the message anyone seemed to get.
Then, the backlash. Rowling fans mercilessly trashed Shepherd in return and left one-star reviews of her books. Books they have not read, just as Shepherd admitted she had not read Rowling’s before dissing them. Okay, here I have to admit I found that pretty damn funny. What comes around, goes around, right? Except part of the justification people used for doing that is it was unfair when Shepherd did it. So, when Shepherd did it, it was wrong, but when they did it, it was retribution and therefore justified.
And you know where I’m going with this because you’re a decent person with morals. You don’t get to twist your morals around and do something you know is wrong just because now you’re the one doing it to someone else. It’s that old “two wrongs don’t make a right” thing.
This is just the most recent example of people using bullying as a retribution tactic. It happens with a startling degree of regularity. People are really good at justifying their own horrible actions. I’m a good person, so the things I do aren’t bad. They’re just. Yeah, but, no. It doesn’t work that way.
This is part of the scary truth behind why we can’t eliminate bullying. Bullies almost never think they’re bullying. They think they’re justified, for whatever twisted reasons they can come up with to justify it. But let me assure you, no matter who you are, no matter how Good or Right you believe yourself to be, you are absolutely capable of becoming that bully. The more you think you are not, the more likely you are to do it, because you won’t examine your real motives, or the results of your actions.
So, what, we’re supposed to let people get away with their crappy behavior? No, frustrated do-gooder, I’m not suggesting that. And incidentally, I share your frustration, it sucks when you feel like someone is getting one over on us. What we should do is what we all said that Shepherd should have done–state our opinions without insults and think through the consequences before we speak. We need to strive to meet the standard we expect from others.
If only Shepherd had done that, she wouldn’t have so many people angry at her now.